Among the female characters of the comedy “Il Campiello”, written by Carlo Goldoni on the occasion of the Carnival of 1755, there is “Orsola la fritolera”, a Goldonian character who tells insights into life and ancient gastronomic uses. In the time before “Lent”, which coincides with the days of Carnival, the typical Venetian sweets were prepared: the “fritole” and the “galani”. A street food that the Serenissima Republic had even codified, recognizing its guild. That precisely of the “fritoleri” who during the whole Carnival sold in the small squares and streets of the lagoon city what became the most typical and traditional of the sweets of Venice over the centuries.
Already at the time the procedure was respected which is still considered as the original one: white flour, sultanas, sugar, eggs, milk, brewer’s yeast, vanilla sugar, salt, lard for frying and other flavors such as lemon peel or orange and of course a live fire for frying. Operation that the “fritoleri”, being preparers, fryers and sellers at the same time, carried out outdoors in large pans. Later other ingredients were added: pine nuts and candied fruit. Together with the raisins, they were displayed on a plate positioned next to those of the desserts, testifying to what the greedy person would have eaten in the dough transformed into a hot “pancake”. A sort of “ante litteram” ingredient label that demonstrated the professionalism of the “fritolero”.
The first “fritole” appeared in the 1300s, sold precisely in the street but also in the “malvasias”, the ancient shops where in addition to the “Venetian pancakes” were sold wines and, above all, the sweet Malvasia wine that was well matched to the hot pancakes, just removed from the pan.
The “fritole” are symbols of a contagious carnival joy that invaded the whole city, the homes of nobles and patricians but also of the commoners and the less well-to-do people. That at Carnival, even in the darkest times of the plagues, they did not give up what, in the 1700s, was proclaimed “National Sweet of the Veneto State” thanks to the “fritoleri”.
Today, ingredients, preparations and fillings vary from family to family, but the many variations of the “Venetian pancakes” have in common the constant presence of dried or candied fruit inside. Without forgetting that, as an old Venetian saying goes: “Venetian pancakes” are like women: if they are not hot and round, they are not good.
400 g of flour, 100 g of sultanas, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 eggs, 1 glass of milk, 1 small glass of rum, 30 g of brewer’s yeast, salt, peanut oil for frying and powdered sugar.
Rinse the raisins and let them soak in warm water. Crumble the yeast into a cup and dissolve it with 3 tablespoons of warm water. Sift the flour into a bowl and mix it with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Arrange the flour and add the eggs, rum and yeast. Mix the ingredients, adding just lukewarm milk, as needed to get a thick batter, then drain the raisins and dry them. Cover the bowl with a lid and put the mixture to rise in a warm place until its volume has doubled. Put a pan with very abundant oil on the fire so that the pancakes float inside, and when it is hot, pour the spoonful of the mixture. When they have taken on a rather dark color, remove them from the heat, dry the excess oil and sprinkle them with powdered sugar.